Discover what it means to be truly stress-free amidst the unspoilt beauty of Northern Greece at the Danai Beach Resort. Our Halkidiki travel guide has it all…
Words Helen Brown
Tell anyone of your holiday to Greece and they’ll immediately picture the pretty island harbours and tavernas of the south. Where sun is aplenty and the vista one of gleaming white against sparkling azure. Make your way north however, and the picture-perfect views bloom with verdant greenery and Greece’s best-kept secret lies, unhassled by summer holiday-makers. Fabled for its heart-stopping beauty and boundless hospitality, Halkidiki is the trident of Greece; three unspoilt, forested fingers stretching out into the Aegean Sea.
Our Greek odyssey brings us to Sithonia, the central peninsula with a backbone of mountains and pine forests. More rugged and less populated than the left prong, Kassandra, Sithonia has long been a favourite vacation destination for locals. Along the coast, sweeping beaches are interspersed by secret coves, and the east side offers commanding views of Mount Athos, the third peninsula. On Sithonia you’ll find gorgeous, sleepy towns, a wealth of charming treasures to unearth and our home-from-home for the week, Danai Beach Resort.
Easily reached from Thessaloniki, this luxurious hideaway is a haven of lush Mediterranean gardens and an expansive sandy beach. A family-run establishment, Danai offers a broad range of suites and villas, each unique in style and boasting impressive views over the gardens or the ocean. Our two bedroom suite falls into the latter; here you can look out from the French doors and see sun, sea and private pool blend seamlessly into a postcard image of utter perfection. Fresh flowers, captivating wall art, Bose wi-fi music system, walk-in wardrobe and Bulgari bathroom products complete the scene.
With all sense of the nine-to-five forgotten, we head to the Sea Horse Grill. On offer here is authentic Greek flavour and the freshest of fish and seafood. There is an ancient concept of hospitality and guest-friendship in this country, known as Xenia, and from this first meal we truly get an understanding of it. Hungry from the morning travelling, we gorge at a table laden with sharing plates until we can eat no more, only to find it relaid with a second wave of larger dishes. A true Greek feast.
With bellies full and the sound of lapping waves tempting us into culinary-induced comas, we head to the beach. More than 300 meters long and absent of crowds, this is where London life is truly left behind. Stretchers and daybeds are available to hire for all guests, but to really get into holiday mode, a beach cabana does wonders. With this comes a private section of beach, a sitting area and comfortable double bed. Hotel staff are on hand to wipe clean your sunnies, serve fresh fruit platters and pop the corks from Perrier Jouet.
Our beach lounging is interspersed with turns on the resort’s paddle boards, dips in the pool and a fantastically indulgent facial. Danai’s prestigious spa is a real haven of tranquillity, comprising multiple massage rooms, a nail spa and trilogy room with reflexology bed and a Cleopatra’s Bath with double bed for relaxation.
Dinner at Danai Beach Resort is another exciting affair with three restaurants to choose from and a traditional Bachtses Night. Put on once a week in an intimate outcrop of garden overlooking the sea, this is a spectacular evening steeped in Greek authenticity. Live cooking, traditional dishes, locally produced drinks, music and dancing make this a night to remember. Our second evening is spent at the open-air Andromeda Restaurant, where modern Mediterranean fare is the order of the day. Sitting on the restaurant’s terrace, we tuck into strawberries with seafood, elegantly cooked lamb and a lemon meringue pie like no other, against a backdrop of splashing waves.
For something a little swankier, The Squirrel has a well-earned reputation for being one of the principle culinary addresses in the country. If Halkidiki is the trident of Greece, then Poseidon is certainly smiling on those who manage to get a table here. Or perhaps Dionysus of wine, parties and fruitfulness; the food here certainly tastes otherworldly. The elaborate degustation menu offers a daring variety of Willy Wonka-esque plates, French and Mediterranean in flavour and expertly paired with wine from Danai’s on-site wine cellar. The restaurant won the FNL Award in 2016 as one of the best three restaurants in Greece, while the wine list came in at number one.
So what of this impressive purveyance of wine? Built deep into the side of the mountain in the heart of the resort, the private cellar at Danai Beach Resort boasts a lauded collection of around 1,700 wines, carefully collected over decades. Varieties range from the old to the new, and from producers both local and far-reaching. Kitted out with antique furnishings and maintaining an old-world ambience, the wine cellar plays host to an incredibly awe-inspiring tasting session. Within this mystic and medieval candle-lit cave, Danai’s competent sommelier talks us through a cleverly curated selection of wines, many of which hail from Greece and prove that the region’s reputation as a producer is on the rise. If it’s an apéritif you’re after, the Philosophy Seaside Bar prides itself on its creative drinks menu and incomparable setting. Located on the beach, an evening here is certainly appealing. The bar staff demonstrate impressive flair and the premium cocktail list attracts both guests and locals alike.
Providing your hangover isn’t too severe, a number of excursions from Danai Beach Resort are available to fully explore the peninsula of Halkidiki. By yacht or by speedboat is the ideal way to combine leisure with sightseeing, and to fully get a feel for the area. One of the resort’s most popular routes will take you to the old city of Neos Marmaras. Departing from the hotel’s private beach, the tour follows the coastline of Nikiti, Ai Giannis, Kastro, Kalogria, Elia and Paradeisos beach, finally reaching Neos Marmaras. This is a must-see village with wild entertainment and plenty of romantic walks. The route then passes by the impressive complex of Porto Carras – cocooned with vineyards and its picturesque harbour – before passing by the tortoise-shaped, deserted island of Kelyfos and the sandy beaches of Diaporos. Another must for culture vultures is a visit to Nikiti where a quaint church marks the highest point of the village and the seafront is a bustling jumble of authentic beach eateries. The village epitomises Halkidiki’s compelling blend of beach holiday with authentic Greek buzz, and proves there is more to the area than meets the eye. Top up your tan, feast on local cuisine and luxuriate in a lifestyle where schedules are few and far between; Halkidiki is the hidden gem to have on your holiday radar this year.